ARLINGTON -- An 8:20 a.m. fire drill kicked off Fisher Elementary School's Fire Prevention Day festivities on Tuesday, in honor of National Fire Prevention Week.

National Fire Prevention Week, which has been in existence since 1922, ran this year from Oct. 6 through 12.

According to the National Fire Protection Association's website, the nonprofit organization which advocates for fire prevention and promotes Fire Prevention Week, the week was originally established to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, a two-day long fire that occurred on Oct. 8 and 9 of that year which resulted in the deaths of more than 250 people.

Since 1922, and following President Woodrow Wilson's 1920 National Fire Prevention Day proclamation, Fire Prevention Week has been observed on the Sunday through Saturday period during which Oct. 9 falls.

Arlington Fire Department Chief Jamie Paustian, who has served his community as a firefighter for 22 years, said that the local department has participated in Fire Prevention Week for as long as he can remember.

"We try to hit all of the schools in the area during this week," he said. "We want to make kids aware of who we are, what we do, and that they shouldn't be afraid of us. We want to show the kids that we're their friend."

In addition to the day serving as an opportunity for students to learn the ins and outs of fire safety and become familiar with the firefighters, Paustian said it was also an excellent opportunity for his newest fire department recruits to demonstrate their rescue skills.


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During the fire drill, Fisher Elementary Principal Deanne Lacoste strategically hid two children and one adult inside the school to be found by firefighters. The 11 newest members of the fire department were then sent inside the building, in full uniform, to "rescue" the individuals.

According to Paustian, the simulation took about 10 minutes, from the time the alarm was pulled to the time the last student was walked out of the building.

Following the drill, all 204 Fisher students were ushered inside the school and into the multi-purpose room for a comprehensive presentation on fire safety, led by fireman Tony Onorato.

Throughout the presentation, Onorato animatedly walked the students through various scenarios, explaining the importance of family escape plans, and hammering home the dangers of playing with matches, candles, and lighters.

He also invited a handful of firefighters to crawl through the sea of students while they gave high-fives and talked to students through their air masks.

DJ Jennings, a senior at Arlington Memorial High School and one of the newest full-fledged members at the fire department, noted the importance of such an activity.

"It makes them less afraid of us," he said. "When they see us in full uniform, it lets them know what to look for if they're ever in a real emergency."

The students also practiced the stop, drop, and roll procedure, in which they all seemed well versed.

After the presentation, the younger students had the treat of exploring the fire trucks up close, while the older students remained indoors for a follow-up presentation on fire safety while baby-sitting or at a friend's house, which was also led by Onorato.

"We so appreciate these guys coming," said Lacoste after the presentation. "I truly cannot say enough about our local fire department in general and its ability to support the community."

Paustian said he felt the morning went well and that the students definitely were receptive to all of the information they were given.

"They learned a lot of important things," he said.

According to Lacoste, the firemen returned to the school during lunchtime to sit and eat with the students.

Later Tuesday, the Arlington Fire Department hosted a similar presentation at the firehouse to community members.

Contact Elizabeth A. Conkey at econkey@benningtonbanner.com or follow on Twitter @bethconkey.